Have you ever heard of or used positive affirmations? Basically you are confidently affirming a positive truth, which can be really helpful in reframing thoughts and beliefs about food and body image. They are often used in therapy to help let go of negative self-criticism and to move toward a more resilient, positive mindset. In fact, anything you think or say is an affirmation…positive or negative.
Since thoughts and beliefs influence behavior, it makes sense to restructure our thoughts and beliefs to lead to more effective behaviors. For example, let’s say you have the belief that you cannot keep cookies in the house because you always binge on them (other examples: sugar is addicting, dairy makes me sick, I can't eat more than _____ calories, etc). You may have plenty of past experiences that provide hard evidence that this is absolutely true. So now, you don’t even necessary need to see cookies, you could even just catch the smell of them, someone could mention cookies or you could just think about cookies and you immediately have either an intense desire to (or an intense fear about) bingeing.
In fact, just reading this could be triggering in which case I invite you to sit with that feeling. Take 3 deep breaths. Don’t push it away, which is likely to just make it stronger. Make room for it, try to understand it, validate it and recognize it as activity of the mind rather than absolute truth. Your mind is trying to protect you from possible harm, thank it and then…
This is where a new positive affirmation could be helpful. Instead of staying trapped in the same habitual and fear-based cycle of food anxiety and negative body image, you could confidently affirm a positive truth to shift the energy away from fear.
The key here is to make sure you can confidently affirm a truth, meaning you have to actually believe it. It needs to feel true to you. To affirm that you “do not binge on cookies” will not feel true because you have, in fact, binged on cookies. That affirmation is neither true or authentic and will only trigger more shame and feelings of failure. Instead, something like “I am learning to trust myself with food” or “I am learning how to listen to my body and meet my needs” or “I am learning how to connect with my intuitive signals” may feel more true and effective. Other examples may include "I am learning how to respect my body shape and size", "I am learning how to include foods I find satisfying and enjoyable", "I am learning how to overcome past food rules", etc.
When I first started on my journey with Intuitive Eating, there was no way I could say “I trust myself with food” or "I trust my body" and actually believe it. I can most definitely believe that now, but that’s only because I met myself where I was and I learned how to be authentic, honest and accepting of my struggles. So by using positive affirmations that feel true for you, you also practice self-acceptance and self-compassion which we know to be so, so, so effective for decreasing emotional distress and increasing positive behavior changes. Often self-acceptance and self-compassion are misunderstood to be complacent, self-indulgent, self-pity and stagnation…but I assure you that they are the exact opposite.
Positive affirmations help us see that our behaviors are a product of our beliefs. We often feel powerless to change, but I find it inspiring that perhaps we are the ones standing in our own way. Maybe we aren’t broken, or addicted, or powerless or a failure…it’s just how we view the challenge at hand. I think you will find that if you cultivate curiosity, acceptance and compassion, you will find that the situation changes. As always, work with trusted health professionals that know your unique set of concerns, and will help you reconnect with yourself.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD